Three identical strangers

Three identical strangers tells a weird story of a “separated at birth” type. It all started in 1980 when 19-year-old Bobby Shafran discovered he had a twin brother. You could not get more “indentical” than Bobby and his brother Eddy Galland. An article is published in a newspaper and David Kellman sees the photos of his two twins. Of course the three boys became media sensations. We see clips from The Phil Donahue show where they list their similarities. Even though they were adopted by couples of different economic classes (a blue collar, a middle class, and an upper class), they practiced the same sports when they were younger, smoked the same brand of cigarette, dated the same type of girls. The triplets and their parents had a lot of questions. When they compared notes they realized that the boys had been placed by the same adoption agency. Louise Wise services placed children with Jewish families. When pressed for answers the directors responded that it was too hard to place triplets or twins, so they had to be separated. It was later revealled that their separation, along with the separations of thousands of twins, had been deliberate in order to conduct a study about twins. Why? That’s the mystery at the heart of this film. The study was never published and the results are locked until 2066. Many of twins suffured from depression or some form of mental illness, leading some to suicide. Although Three identical strangers is interesting mostly because the story is so gripping, it is very well made. We feel for Bobby and David, the two surviving twins, who are at the centre of the film.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Plays at Ottawa’s ByTowne Cinema from July 20 – 24
http://www.bytowne.ca/movie/three-identical-strangers

Three identical strangers

Directed by:
Tim Wardle

96 min.

Rated Parental Guidance

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Leave no trace

Will (Ben Foster) and his daughter Tom (Thomasin McKenzie) live outdoors in a public park in Portland, Oregon. They’ve set up a camp under a tree with a small tarp covering their heads. They can either cook on a fire, when it’s not raining, or on a propane BBQ they have brought with them. This is their home. Tom is 13-year-old. They must be careful not to be seen, as it is illegal to live in a public park. Occasionally they have military drills as a practise in case they are discovered. Will is an army veteran, probably suffering from some form of PTSD. During his sleep he has nightmares, and he wakes with the sounds of helicopters ringing in his head. Then it happens. The cops find them. Authorities get involved. They are submitted to a series of stupid psychiatric tests with stupid questions. A social worker finds them a home where they can live. It’s on a farm where they grow Christmas trees. Will  works at the farm. But “civilization” is not Will’s thing. In a telling scene, he unplugs the TV set and puts it away in the closet. He rejects society and its values. So it’s not long before he decides that they have to leave. By that time Tom has made friends with a local boy who raises rabbits and started to get accustomed to school and a more regulated life. She reluctantly packs up and leaves with him. A series of accidents will make the journey back to wilderness difficult. Debra Granik’s assured direction is remarkable here. She does not need to over-dramatize. She only observes without judging. The characters are already infused with baggage that is so rich. These are people with very few words. There are no long speeches. Although it doesn’t sound like it, it makes it harder for actors to do. McKenzie and Foster have the added task of playing father and daughter, to create a bond out of thin air. I thought that Ben Foster has always been unappreciated, and I hope that he will finally get the acclaim that he deserves. His work here, as well as Granik’s and McKenzie’s should be applauded.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Plays at Ottawa’s ByTowne Cinema from July 20 – 29
http://www.bytowne.ca/movie/leave-no-trace

Leave no trace

Directed by:
Debra Granik

Screenplay by:
Debra Granik
Anne Rosellini
Based on the novel My abandonment by Peter Rock

Starring:
Ben Foster
Thomasin McKenzie
Jeff Kober
Dale Dickey

109 min.

Rated Parental Guidance

Boundaries

It doesn’t take a very long time before you realize that road-movie Boundaries is one mother of a messy film. It’s a shame because I really like Vera Farmiga, Lewis MacDougall and Christopher Plummer, the film’s three main actors. Farmiga plays Laura Jaconi, a woman who finds comfort in picking up stray dogs and cats. There’s too many in the house, but every time she sees one, she can’t resist. Laura lives with her 13-year-old son, Henry (Scottish teen actor Lewis McDougall), who got kicked out of school for drawing his female teacher in a sexy pose…  naked. He does that to everyone including his mom lovers. And then there is Jack, Laura’s estranged father. She’s trying to avoid answering his insistent phone calls because she knows he’s trouble. And because she knows he never really loved her. But when she does answer he tells her that he’s been kicked of the retirement home because he was caught selling marijuana. He needs her help. She needs money to send Henry to private school. As played by Christopher Plummer, Jack has the air of a person you cannot help but love even though you damn well know you shouldn’t trust him. And of course he’s got perfect timing. The plan is to drive from Portland to Los Angeles (but it was filmed in Vancouver, BC), where Jack is supposed to stay with his other daughter JoJo (Kristen Schaal), who seems to occupy herself walking dogs. But Laura doesn’t know that in Jack’s luggage there is $200,000 worth of pot. To help him sell it he strikes a deal with Henry, his grandson. The pot is to be carried in adult diapers (Got it? As geriatric humour it’s not very subtle.). Along the way they visit some old friends (Christopher Lloyd and Peter Fonda) and Laura’s ex and Henry’s father (Bobby Cannavale). During the trip Laura starts to reconnect with her dad again. But the whole time he’s taking advantage of her, and enlisting her son to do the same. I found the film mean-spirited, and frankly not funny enough. Yes, I like Farmiga and Lewis MacDougall. and Christopher Plummer is great, as always. The characters are supposed to be quirky, but they are just messy people in a messy movie.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Plays at Ottawa’s ByTowne Cinema from July 13 – 19
http://www.bytowne.ca/movie/boundaries

Boundaries

Directed by:
Shana Feste

Screenplay by:
Shana Feste

Starring:
Vera Farmiga
Christopher Plummer
Lewis MacDougall
Peter Fonda
Kristen Schaal
Christopher Lloyd
Bobby Cannavale

104 min.

Rated 14A

Hearts beat loud

The great chemistry between Nick Offerman and Kiersey Clemons is one of the main reason to go see Hearts beat loud. Offerman and Clemons play father and daughter Frank and Sam Fisher. As Frank is just about to close his Brooklyn vinyl record store after 17 years, Sam is leaving to college to study medicine. So Dad wants to jam with his daughter a few times before she leaves. Frank plays the guitar and Sam is on some sort of keyboards/samplers. When Frank ask Sam what they should call their band, Sam swiftly answers “We are not a band.”. So the name of the band becomes We are not a band. Sam has several things on her mind. Beside wanting to become a doctor, she’s in love with Rose (Sasha Lane). (Sam’s lesbianism is refreshingly not an issue for anyone in Hearts beat loud.) But Sam was born into music. Frank and Sam’s mom, who died in a bicycle accident, were in a band together, and Marianne, Frank’s mother and Sam’s grandmother (Blythe Danner, who unfortunately only has a few scenes) was a singer in her younger years. So “Music runs in the family” (as the tagline for the film says). Sam is interested enough with music that she writes songs, including a love song for Rose. It’s called Hearts beat loud, and Frank is so enthusiastic about the song that he puts it on Spotify where it becomes a hit. He is already planning for a world tour. Sam will have none of it, she loves singing with her Dad, but she’s leaving for college. Offerman and Clemons are so effective at recreating the love between fathers/mothers and daughters/sons. Their little arguments where Frank is trying to say something to make Sam laugh, but Sam, like all teenagers, never find her Dad funny. It all rings true. Toni Collette plays Leslie, Frank’s vinyl store landlady and possible love interest. And Ted Danson is Dave, Frank’s best friend who also owns a bar (Yes, Danson behind a bar again). But the film belongs to Kiersey Clemons, who, beside being a talented actress, has such a powerful singing voice. Hearts beat loud’s songs were all composed by Keegan DeWitt, including the inspired title song. In my favorite scene, Frank and Sam are recording Hearts beat loud. The arrangement is simple at first with only a few instruments, as more instruments are added, the song builds up layers upon layers. This seems an apt description for this film. It may seem at first a simple, charming film, but it becomes more complex and compelling. Still, it is charming.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Hearts beat loud

 

Directed by:
Brett Haley

Screenplay by:
Brett Haley
Marc Basch

Starring:
Nick Offerman
Kiersey Clemons
Toni Collette
Ted Danson
Sasha Lane
Blythe Danner

97 min.

Rated Parental Guidance

Les gardiennes (The guardians)

This part of the history of World War I has not been told before. It is the story of the women being left behind to manage the family farms. Les gardiennes (based on Ernest Pérochon’s 1924 novel) is set in the French countryside where Hortense (a marvelously stone-faced and hardened Natalie Baye) has seen the young men from her family leave to fight “les boches”, as Germans were called by the French (the subtitles reads “krauts”). Both of her sons as well as her daughter’s husband have been conscripted. That means that it’s up to Hortense and her daughter Solange (Laura Smet, who is Baye’s daughter) to run the farm, called Le Paridier. Hortense hires a young farm-hand to help with the harvest. 20 years old Francine (Iris Bry, a star in the making) is such a capable hard-worker, that she is offered to stay at the farm indefinitely. The days are long and the work is relentless. Director Xavier Beauvois (Of Gods and men) shows us every details of the work and we are struck that we forgot how beautiful films can be. At times the men return on leave and the women notice how they have changed. Solange’s husband, Clovis (Olivier Rabourdin) declares that the Germans are just like the French, teachers and farmers. “The Germans are people like us,”. When Hortense’s younger son Georges (Cyril Descours) comes home on leave he falls for Francine, and they start a secret relationship. But George has already been promised to Marguerite, a local girl. This and the arrivals of American soldiers will turn things around between Hortense and Francine. Throughout the film I was left breathless by Beauvois and cinematographer Caroline Champetier’s images of stunning landscape. For a war film, the calm and the stillness is a welcomed contrast to the usual horrors of the trenches. The women at home were also heroes, let’s not forget it. Bravo to Baye, Bry, Beauvois and Champetier.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Les gardiennes (The guardians)

 

Directed by:
Xavier Beauvois

Screenplay by:
Xavier Beauvois
Marie-Julie Maille
Frédérique Moreau
Based on the novel by Ernest Pérochon

Starring:
Nathalie Baye
Laura Smet
Iris Bry
Cyril Descours
GIlbert Bonneau
Olivier Rabourdin

138 min.

Rated 14A.

In French with English subtitles

Beast

Although it is promising at the starts, Beast piles up the melodrama and the clichés so high that by the end it has become a unwatcable mess. Meet Moll (Jessie Buckley), a young woman living with her refined family on the British island of Jersey. Moll seems to be under the strict control of mom Hilary (Geraldine James) because of something terrible she did in her teen. We’re not told what it was, but it is almost certain that we’re going to know by the end of the film. During her own birthday party, Moll runs away to go drink and dance at a bar. The young man she meets there will later become a bit too insistent. Moll is saved from rape by Pascal (Johnny Flynn). When Moll falls for Pascal, her family tries to dissuade her from seeing him: he’s not from the same class as they are, to them he’s unkempt. And it gets worse when news comes that a serial killer has been raping and killing young women. Hilary and the family thinks it might be Pascal. So does the police. A detective (Trystan Gravelle) starts asking Moll some questions. Moll lies to cover for her lover. With his disheveled head of blond hair, his unshaved and scarred face (The scar may be a real one. The South African-born British Flynn has facial scarring from an attack by a dog when he was a child in South Africa.), Pascal may be the “beast” of the title, but there are many beasts in the film.: Moll is a beast because of her violent past, but also for the way to acts just in defiance of her mom’s constraints; mom/Hilary is also a beast, who is unfairly rigid with her daughter while trying to maintain the perfect picture of a good family. There are certainly good performance from Buckley and James. Buckley has such a busy part with some of it at such an emotional high pitch, that it would be hard not to see the quality in her acting. If she were a bad actress , it would be laughable, but not her. I a smaller part, Geraldine James is a minimalist by comparison to Jessie Buckley, but of course the two parts are different. What is so frustrating is that the film never seem to know how or when it’s going to end. Is he guilty? No he’s not. Then: Yes he is. No. Yes. What is she doing? Why? Does she think he’s the serial killer? No. Yes. Maybe. It’s like a daytime American soap, not much better. Is that what passes for good dramas in England these days? Unless you’re a lover of everything and anything British, avoid.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Beast

 

Directed by:
Michael Pearce

Screenplay by
Michael Pearce

Starring:
Jessie Buckley
Johnny Flynn
Geraldine James
Trystan Gravelle

107 min.

Rated 14A

The seagull

This excellent film adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s 1895 classic play seems to have everything right. Screenwriter Stephen Karam has done a great job by opening the play a bit, but has kept the story and the motivations (from what I can tell) pretty much the same. The film stars Annette Bening as Irina Arkadina, an aging actress spending the summer at her brother’s beautiful Russian country estate. She’s accompanied by her lover, well-known playwright Boris Trigorin (Corey Stoll), and her troubled son, Konstantin (Billy Howle). There are other characters with them and they all seem to have one thing in common: unrequited love. There is Masha (Elisabeth Moss), daughter of the estate manager, who is obsessed with Konstantin. But Konstantin is secretly in love with Nina (Saoirse Ronan), a young neighbour who dreams of becoming an actress. Konstantin is upset at his mother because she mocked one of his plays. He also dislikes Boris and is resentful of his talent. It gets worse when Boris attempts to seduce an all too willing Nina. It may be impossible for modern audiences to understand this community of 19th century over-the-top dramatic actresses of artists and romantic/suicidal youths, but if there is one cast that can do it, this is the one. Bening in particular understands the bigger than life persona and never misses a chance to strike a pose. She’s grand. A refreshing aspect of this film is that the mostly American cast did not feel the need to speak with an accent. Too many times I’ve seen actors absurdly attempting to take a Russian accent or a British accent. To my ear, everyone spoke a very good English without any accents. Director Michael Mayer keeps it all snappy and frothy. Very enjoyable.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

The seagull

 

Directed by:
Michael Mayer

Screenplay by:
Stephen Karam
Based on the play by Anton Chekhov

Starring:
Saoirse Ronan
Annette Bening
Corey Stoll
Billy Howle
Elisabeth Moss
Brian Dennehy
Mare Winningham
Jon Tenney

98 min.

Oh Lucy!

Oh Lucy! is a quirky Japanese-American comedy. It stars Shinobu Terajima as Setsuko, a lonely, loveless middle-aged Japanese woman who lives in a messy apartment in Tokyo. On her niece’s advice, Setsuko signs up for English lessons. John (Josh Hartnett) is the handsome American English teacher, who uses some weird teaching methods. He gives every pupils English names. So Setsuko is renamed “Lucy”, and she has to wear a blond wig during the class. And John likes to give hugs to his pupils. It doesn’t take long before Setsuko/Lucy falls for John. But John soon flies back to California with Setsuko/Lucy’s niece, Mika (Shiori Kutsuna). When Setsuko/Lucy’s estranged sister, Ayako (Kaho Minami) comes to asks her where is Mika, her daughter, both Setsuko/Lucy and Ayako decide to go look for her in California. During the trip one things becomes clear: the sisters will never get along. In California they easily find John, but Mika has already left him. That gives more time for Setsuko/Lucy to get to know John. But she may find happiness in the most unexpected place. The thing with this type of cute quirky film is that it soon gets tiresome. Oh Lucy! is helped a lot by the performances of Terajima and Minami, who seems to be having a great time playing dueling sisters. Although this is far from a perfect film, it is still enjoyable.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Oh Lucy!

 

Directed by:
Atsuko Hirayanagi

Screenplay by:
Atsuko Hirayanagi

Starring:
Shinobu Terajima
Josh Hartnett
Kaho Minami
Shiori Kutsuna
Megan Mullally
Reiko Aylesworth

95 min.

Rated 14A

In English and Japanese with English subtitles.

A Syrian family (AKA Insyriated)

A Syrian family is the most intense film I have seen in a while. Yet what happens is confined to the apartment where Oum Yazan (Hiam Abbass) live with her extended family. There’s her three children (two teenage daughters and a young son), one of the daughter’s boyfriend, her father-in-law Mustafa (Mohsen Abbas), a young couple, Halima (Diamand Abou Abboud) and Selim (Moustapha Al Kar) and their baby, and their maid Delhani (Juliette Navis). They are the only residents of an abandoned apartment building in the Syrian capital Damascus. Around them there is only ruins and desolation. They have barricaded the door, and they rarely venture out. Halima and Selim are planning to leave for Lebanon. When Selim goes to meet the man who is supposed help them, he is shot by a bullet while crossing the parking lot. This is witnessed by Delhani who tells Oum. But Oum wants the maid to wait until night to tell Halima. Nobody must know they live there, as it might put them in danger. During the day there are rockets attacks that causes the apartment to shake and the family take shelter in the kitchen. Then there is a bang on the door. Two men are outside demanding to be let in. Oum refuses and the men leave. Later on they come back and get in through the balcony. Most of the family lock themselves in the kitchen, but Halima and her baby are left in the hall with the two violent intruders. In an almost unbearable scene, Halima is beaten and raped, but Oum and the others do nothing to help her. It’s an impossible situation. Should Oum go help Halima and thus put the whole family in danger? I found the film gripping for several reasons. The simple setting is not really easy to direct effectively. Belgium director Philippe Van Leeuw may have been lucky with his cast. The most familiar face is Palestinian actress Hiam Abbass (The visitor, Lemon tree, Blade runner 2049) who, as always, is marvelous here, But there is one heck of a gutsy performance by Diamand Abou Abboud as Halima that is worth seeing the film. Yes it is not an easy film to watch, but in times of war nothing is easy.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

A Syrian family (AKA Insyriated)

 

Directed by:
Philippe Van Leeuw

Screenplay by:
Philippe Van Leeuw

Starring:
Hiam Abass
Diamand Bou Abboud
Juliette Navis
Mohsen Abbas
Moustapha Al Kar
Mohammad Jihad Sleik
Alissar Kaghadou
Ninar Halabi
Elias Khatter

85 min.

Rated 14A

In Arabic with English subtitles.

Foxtrot (פוֹקְסטְרוֹט)

When Daphna Feldman (Sarah Adler) opens the door of her apartment, she understands and faints. From the living room her husband, Michael Feldman (Lior Ashkenazi), watch as soldiers from the Israeli defence forces (IDF) come in the apartment, sedate his wife and carry her to bed. They have bad news for them: their son Jonathan was “killed in action”. The soldiers are quick to instruct Michael that he has to remain calm. They give him some pills. They tell him that he has to drink water. One of the soldier even sets up an alert on Michael’s phone to remind him when he should drink water. But during the day Michael goes crazy. No amount of water is going to change that. He calls his brother, tries to reach his daughter, kicks the family dog, visits his mother at the retirement home to tell her the news, but he’s not sure if she even knows who he is. Foxtrot, a near perfect film from Israel, has a three-part structure, playing around with time and space. At the end of the first segment, the soldier come back with another devastating news. In the second segment, we find Jonathan (Yonatan Shiray) with three other soldiers manning a roadblock situated to the north of Israel. This is boring work. There are some cars passing on the road, but most of the time they raise the barrier for camels. Their conditions are terrible: They sleep in a container that seem to be slowly sinking into the ground. To get there they have to cross a pond of muddy water. And they eat food directly from boiled cans. There’s a great moment at the beginning of this second segment where Jonathan shows his fellow soldiers how you dance a Foxtrot. But a tragedy comes to disrupt their quiet life. In the third segment we are back at the Feldman apartment. It’s a year later and the house is in disarray, with Michael and Daphna’s marriage almost on the brink of divorce. Foxtrot has been controversial in Israel, mostly for the less than stellar depiction of the Israeli defence forces. If I love that film so much it’s not only because of the structured screenplay. It’s Samuel Maoz’s visually compelling direction. The unusual angles, overhead shots, the close up. Every beautiful shots contribute to the story and create a tension of its own. This is the most fun I had at the movies in a long time. During the first segment Lior Ashkenazi gives a tense, fierce and hysterical performance. So far this is my favorite film this year.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Foxtrot (פוֹקְסטְרוֹט)

 

Directed by:
Samuel Maoz

Screenplay by:
Samuel Maoz

Starring:
Lior Ashkenazi
Sarah Adler
Yonatan Shiray
Shira Haas

108 min.

Rated 14A

In Hebrew with English subtitles.